American soul — in particular what’s come out of Memphis, Tennessee — has been a big part of Ori Naftaly’s personal soundtrack.
It all started during his formative years in Israel, listening to his father’s vast music collection. The bond and appreciation deepened when at age 25, Naftaly visited Bluff City to compete in the 2013 International Blues Challenge.
“I realized that so many of my favorite artists started their careers in Memphis, recorded in Memphis or wrote songs about Memphis,” recalls the guitarist, who has been playing since age 5. “The one thing I love the most about Memphis music is the raw, soulful sound: the horns, the drum beats.”
Naftaly eventually relocated to Memphis. After a few years of touring America leading the Ori Naftaly Band, which consisted of Israeli musicians, he felt something was missing. So Naftaly put out the call for “an energetic singer who can dominate the stage and also has the same interests as me.”
Enter Tierinii Jackson, a Memphis native with experience singing in cover bands, church and theater. She in turn brought in sister Tikyra to play drums, and shortly thereafter, they wrote “What Did I Do” and “Wildflower,” paving the way for their group Southern Avenue (which also includes keyboardist Jeremy Powell and bassist Daniel McKee).
Both songs appear on the band’s self-titled debut, due Feb. 24 on the Concord Music Group-distributed Stax imprint. (Memphis music scene veterans Luther Dickinson of The North Mississippi Allstars and Marc Franklin of The Bo-Keys make guest appearances on the 10-song album.)
“The Memphis traditions always influence us,” Naftaly says, “but we don’t think about them when we write. We write songs according to what our show needs. If we need more upbeat songs, we just write them. If we feel we need another ballad because we are bored with what we have, we just write a new one.”
He adds, “The traditions are quite simple, the way I see it: Play it like you mean it, be creative and put some horns on it.”
Niftily doesn’t think that Southern Avenue is competing with the efforts of Stax’s storied artists, but he would like to one day have the same impact as those acts.
“Stax used to be not just a music label, but also a movement — a gathering of people who made great music but also sent strong messages about current events and life,” he says. “We are here to make great music, the best music we can. Our responsibility is to really be the best we can as musicians and people, so one day we will have the same impact on the world as past Stax artists have had over the years.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Southern Avenue on tour (schedule subject to change):
• Feb. 1: Rum Boogie — Memphis, Tennessee
• Feb. 3: Knoxville Museum of Art — Knoxville, Tennessee
• Feb. 4: Beale on Broadway — St. Louis
• Feb. 8: Lafayette’s Music Room — Memphis, Tennessee
• Feb. 10: Duling Hall — Jackson, Mississippi
• Feb. 11: Stax Museum of American Soul Music — Memphis, Tennessee
• Feb. 17: Hotel Lafayette — Marietta, Ohio
• Feb. 18: A&R Music Bar — Columbus, Ohio
• Feb. 20: Club Café — Pittsburgh
• Feb. 22: Daryl’s House — Pawling, New York
• Feb. 23: Mercury Lounge — New York
• Feb. 24: Milkboy — Philadelphia
• Feb. 26: Jammin Java — Vienna, Virginia
Photo by David McClister